There was a time, not very long ago, when perceptions of hand-to-hand combat were limited heavily to what fight fans had seen inside the boxing ring and on the silver screen. Exposure to the combat arts was extremely limited, and therefore shrouded in myth as well as complacency.
The golden era of the sweet science had long since passed, and even classic Bruce Lee Kung Fu flics had been replaced with the garden-variety triple-Van-Damme spin-kick, and Steven Seagal having his way with countless hoodlums.
Save for those deeply entrenched in various forms of martial arts, many people had never seen true, open hand-to-hand combat. They only knew what they remembered from the Sugar Rays and Alis of the world, and unfortunately what Hollywood told them fighting was all about.
After all, Chuck Norris doesn't pay attention, attention pays Chuck Norris right?
Then after one fateful event coordinated by Brazil's Gracie family to showcase their art to the world, combat arts and generic perceptions were changed forever. The introduction of the theories found in Vale Tudo and Gracie Jiu Jitsu opened the eyes of an entire generation.
What had yet to be dubbed mixed martial arts took everyone watching by surprise. People watched in amazement as Kung Fu was tested against wrestling, and Tae Kwon Do masters fought Jiu Jitsu wizards.
Funny thing is there were not any death touches, there were no spinning jump kicks or flips to dazzle. Nothing like what many fight fans expected took place in that cage for the inaugural UFC event. What did happen is people learned that open hand-to-hand combat with few rules could actually be somewhat flat and boring.
It was more tactical than it was flashy, at least for the successful warriors inside the new combat arts proving ground, The Octagon.
Certainly it wasn't the dazzling displays of martial arts that generations of enthusiasts had grown to admire. And while it was not what was necessarily expected, it was intriguing. The unexpected elements of MMA were far more alluring than most unsuspecting fans anticipated.
What really moved the viewers was the finish, the end, the climax of the fight. No where was the finish more prevalent than in the rise of Royce Gracie. Where fans had grown to think that one-punch knockouts and kicks mixed with flashy cinematography were the recipe, they learned so much more excitement could be found in simply making a man tapout.
Seeing Royce challenge visibly larger athletes only to make them express their desire to no longer fight with a simple gesture of tapping changed everyone's opinion of what hand to hand combat was all about.
It did not stop there. The evolution of fighting was in full motion and hand to hand combat would never be seen or practiced the same again.
David vs. Goliath tournaments, submission grappling, these components of a young sport became the foundation for what has blossomed into an unstoppable force of promotion and talent.
To see that size was not nearly as important as technique, and that one style could never be superior to many, those were eye opening theories that have grown into a complex vine now known simply as MMA.
One thing still remains paramount for the viewer. One thing still gets fight fans to their feet without a doubt. While evolution has become the mantra of all MMA, one thing will never change. The fan desires the finish. The finish is what sets fighters apart in a world where now styles are not so unique.
Even if it is impossible for a fighter to finish his opponent, the relentless pursuit of the finish is what grips a fan's loyalty.
The formula of MMA is now Georges St. Pierre.
Take all of the most effective parts of what you can learn and make them your own. If you are a halfway decent athlete, the rest will take care of itself.
But even GSP, for all his perfection, lacks that killer instinct that sets the greatest of fighters apart.
Not the greatest of champions, but the greatest of FIGHTERS are defined by the war inside their hearts, in their souls, in their quests to become more than just a competitor. In their quest to be the greatest warriors they could be, many mixed martial artists have found their legacies defined by more than championships or even victory in some cases.
But when you come to the cage ready for war, to not only engage in war, but end it at all costs, victory has a way of taking care of itself. If that is followed without waiver, legacies also tend to fall in line.
There is no greater example of a warrior looking to finish a fight relentlessly than the man they call "The Axe Murder" Wanderlei Silva.
This timeless warrior wants nothing more than to please his fans through executing his relentless attack on his opponent. Winning or losing takes a back seat to putting on a hell of a fight for you and for me.
That approach has outlined his legendary career. But Wand is not alone in his approach. He may be the quintessential people's warrior but his approach is not unique. Many of this sport's greatest fighters both past and present followed that very code.
Don Frye never ever set foot in a cage having practiced safety and reluctance to engage.
His career and his legend were equally forged in the fires of outright war with righteous and worthy opponents. Don Frye will tell you, without quality of opposition his legacy would be worthless. It was his opponent's best that provided us all with the platform to see the best Don Frye we would ever see.
It was his relentless pursuit of the finish that defined him with those worthy combatants across the cage from him. They may have all been amazing athletes but if he didn't go in there with one sole goal of destroying them, the Don Frye we remember today may never have been more than just another guy who had the balls to give it a go.
Fast forward to current times and who represents the excitement of a finish? There are more than a few gentlemen—and ladies also—who exemplify the idea of being a finisher.
The UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez has made a living out of simply smashing competition.
When we say smashing we are being nice.
The man has decimated every poor soul to ever have the spine to square off across the cage from him. From guys you have never heard of to Brock frickin' Lesnar, Velasquez has simply been a destroyer.
The man is far from done both building his career and building an unmatched legacy.
Just as recent as this past weekend MMA fans were treated to the dance of a fighter who has also made a living devastating his opponents.
Not a guy who gets lucky once in awhile and earns a flash KO, but a guy who fights with zero motivation other than to send his opponent home by way of stoppage.
Nick Diaz doesn't fight safe, hell he doesn't even fight smart.
What he does do is fight to win, and when he fights the judges sitting cageside are often let off the hook from screwing up another decision.
Diaz is a Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu Black Belt. What that means is he is a bird of prey waiting patiently to sink his talons into his victim and crush the life from them. Yet the average fan may never realize that by watching him go to war.
Paul Daley, his most recent victim, is one of the most dangerous welterweight strikers in the world. He has devastating knockout power and has shut the mouth of more than a few opponents thinking they had what it took to stand and bang with him.
For the record, his ground game is nothing short of worthless as proven by Josh Koscheck sometime ago.
So for a Gracie Jiu Jitsu Black Belt the no brainer approach is to get this Paul Daley character to the ground and submit his ass. Nick Diaz saw it another way.
Nick Diaz approached his fight with Paul Daley looking to fight in his territory, the striking game. And he did it too.
He stopped Daley cold in a back and forth war exchanging blow for blow risking it all—title, legacy, health, all of it—to beat this banger at his own game.
Are you listening, GSP?
You may very well be the greatest champion and athlete this sport has ever known but saying you want to finish a fighter and actually going to work with nothing but that in mind are two entirely separate issues.
GSP's last fight with Josh Koscheck showed him talk relentlessly about his work with Freddie Roach and Roger Gracie. GSP told the media, he told the fans, he told himself, he would stop at nothing to stop Koscheck and that his entire focus throughout his entire training camp was spent on that notion.
He would finish Kos, he was sure of it. Then fight night came and he jabbed Kocheck into oblivion in one of the single most impressive 25-minute jabbing sessions this sport has ever seen.
Alas, Koscheck was never once in trouble of being finished. Not even close. Not once.
Maybe GSP had to tell himself that he was a finisher, maybe he felt obligated to feed his fans a line of bologna about his intentions for his challenger. One thing was painfully obvious during that fight though: Either he was scared to take the risks necessary to end Koschek's night or the man simply is not the finisher he might like to be.
He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest this sport has ever known, but he's no Wanderlei Silva; he's no Nick Diaz.
That is not to take away from his accomplishments, more so than to use him as an example of what this sport has become versus what this sport was intended to be.
GSP is the MMA of today and tomorrow there is no doubt.
Nick Diaz on the other hand is MMA at its finest. He may not win them all, he may not win every round, but the man comes to the cage ready for war. Not to play it safe, not to pussy foot around, not to run down the clock while controlling his opponent. He comes to fight and go home.
Winning may be the result, but he comes for war. He comes to finish.
Fight fans around the world adore him and many many other warriors who follow that same code. The ability and intent to finish is their legacy. Even when they couldn't or can't end a fight, they endlessly pursue their chance to do so.
They win some, they lose some, and somewhere in between the fans of this sport celebrate them and their careers for the efforts they give and gave in that cage. Hey this sport is fluid, and there are more than a few ways to find success in a cage.
Success found through relentless and tireless war, that is the type of success that builds legends among legends.
Wanderlei Silva may never hold the credentials of a Georges St. Pierre. His overall career will not shine with the titles and pound for pound consideration.
But Wand Silva will be equally revered in the history of this sport as GSP. There is no doubt about it.
Right next to him will be the Fryes and Diazes who may not have dominated, but they damn sure devastated.
Success is undeniable, but the road one travels to find success is what defines them.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.